One of the coolest things about working in the aviation field is that you get to see and experience a lot of really cool, unusual events with a view that most can only dream of having. Some aren’t so great, but it’s the good ones that you remember and cherish. I’ve seen the space shuttle launch from abeam Cape Canaveral on the Fourth of the July; that same day, I saw the oldest ship in the Navy, the Constitution, under sail in Boston.
Recently, I was scheduled to fly during the total solar eclipse. Prior to the flight, my captain and I did some research about the path of the eclipse, and we each took some screen shots of various maps and time tables. Our flight plan from Houston to New York had us crossing Nashville within a few minutes of the cone of totality. An ATC ground delay worked in our favor, and we were able to adjust our speed such that we would cross the path of the eclipse at the exact time that the moon would be blocking out the sun. As luck would have it, I had the only unobstructed view on the plane. The sun was almost directly overhead, but my window curved up just enough that I was able to look up and back (with my viewing glasses on, of course!) and watch the moon and sun cross paths.
The excitement was evident everywhere. Our passengers were chatting about the eclipse as they boarded, and the traffic on the radio was amplified. There were a number of NASA aircraft following the event, recording observations and collecting data that will be studied for years. As we neared Nashville, a number of aircraft were asking for vectors and even holding patterns with the hope of being able to experience the entirety of the eclipse. They were all denied.
By the time the sky began to darken to a noticeable extent, the sun was mostly covered. When the eclipse was actually taking place, the outside air temperature dropped enough that the smooth ride we were experiencing began to deteriorate to continuous light chop. We should have anticipated this, but we didn’t, and while my view of the eclipse—sans glasses—was spectacular, getting a decent picture was virtually impossible because of the ride. That said, I was able to get some video of the darkness with just a hint of light off in the distance. The ground was lit up, and stars were visible in the sky. It was an unforgettable experience.
My logbooks are mostly mundane flights from A to B, but there are, sprinkled throughout, events that will stay with me forever: 9/11, the loss of the shuttle Columbia, my first flights with my kids, first trips to certain locations, and some sunrises and sunsets that are etched in my memory. My job has allowed me to see much from both the ground (I also seen a total lunar eclipse) and the air that I’d never see otherwise. Those hours, and those memories, are to me a treasure chest filled with gold that I’d never trade.